Walt Whitman

by Paul Elmer More

It is ill dealing with the prophets. They themselves may be approachable, serene, and simple, but about them their disciples soon cast such a mirage of words that the seeker is blinded and baffled, if he is not utterly repelled. And denying what the disciples say, one fears the rebuke of denying the great principles whose names they usurp. You may read in Mr. Burroughs or Mr. O'Connor or Dr. Bucke and feel so strong a repulsion for their idol that only a copious draught direct from the Leaves of Grass or the Specimen Days will restore your mind to equilibrium. Yet it is fair now to add that, by eliminating himself and allowing Whitman to speak his own words, Mr. Horace Traubel, certainly one of the least tolerable of these enthusiasts, has given us a book of some importance,* a daily record of intercourse during four months with his master, when old and paralytic and waiting for the outward tide.
[* With Walt Whitman in Camden. (March 28-July 14, 1888.) By Horace Traubel. Boston: Small, Maynard, & Co., 1906.]
Here we may meet the "good grey poet" just as he was in his little house in Mickle Street, Camden; may sit with him in his chamber in the midst of its indescribable confusion, and hear him talk, "garrulous to the very last." "There is all sorts of debris scattered about," says the diary, "bits of manuscript, letters, newspapers, books. Near by his elbow towards the window a washbasket filled with such stuff. Lady Mount Temple's waistcoat [a gift to Whitman from England] was thrown carelessly on the motley table - a Blake volume was used by him for a footstool: near by a copy of De Kay's poems given by Gilder to Rhys. Various other books. A Dickens under his elbow on the chair. He pushed the books here and there several times this evening in his hunt for particular papers. 'This,' he said once, 'is not so much a mess as it looks: you notice that I find most of the things I look for and without much trouble.'" As a matter of fact, his usual method of hunting was to rummage with his stick among the papers on the floor until the desired object came to the surface. Meanwhile, what other chance treasures floated up!- letters from Tennyson, Symonds, Roden Noel, Lord Houghton, Dowden, and many another stout admirer across the sea, all which were passed over to Mr. Traubel and by him duly transcribed for our perusal. What will surprise most readers of the diary is the predominance of this bookish talk; and, except where his Own work is concerned, Whitman shows himself a trenchant and just critic - as might be inferred from his essays on Carlyle and Burms. One could wish that he did not so often fall into the trick common among the ill-educated of denouncing criticism while themselves exercising that function. It was, for example, not gracious to complain of Mr. 5tedman for weighing him in the critical balance, when he himself was subjecting writer after writer to the same process. And again, in a larger sense, though we may after a fashion understand his distinction, there is almost a touch of insincerity in the constant segregation of himself from literature and the literary class. After all, a book's a book however much there's in 't, and the whole ambition of Whitman's life was in his authorship. More than that, we remember how many times in the Leaves of Grass he declares that the justification of America shall be her poets; and what student of the closet would have dared, as he did in his lecture on the Death of Abraham Lincoln, to reduce the whole desperate terror of the war to the needs of the literary imagination?-
I say, certain secondary and indirect results, out of the tragedy of this death, are, in my opinion, greatest. Not the event of the murder itself. Not that Mr. Lincoln strings the principal points and personages of the period, like beads, upon the single thread of his career. Not that his idiosyncrasy, in its sudden appearance and disappearance, stamps this republic with a stamp more mark'd and enduring than any yet given by any one man - (more even than Washington's;) - but, join'd with these, the immeasurable value and meaning of that whole tragedy lies, to me, in senses finally dearest to a nation, (and here all our own)- the imaginative and artistic senses - the literary and dramatic ones. Not in any common or low meaning of those terms, but a meaning precious to the race, and to every age. A long and varied series of contradictory events arrives at last at its highest poetic, single, central, pictorial denouement. The whole involved, baffling, multiform whirl of the secession period comes to a head, and is gather'd in one brief flash of lightning - illumination - one simple, fierce deed. Its sharp culmination, and as it were solution, of so many bloody and angry problems, illustrates those climax-moments on the stage of universal Time, where the historic Muse at one entrance, and the tragic Muse at the other, suddenly ringing down the curtain, close an immense act in the long drama of creative thought, and give it radiation, tableau, stranger than fiction. Fit radiation - fit close! How the imagination - how the student loves these things!
I am not sure but a complete critique of Whitman's own methods as a poet, with his wanton neglect of those "climax moments," might be read in such a passage as this. Certainly, a recollection of this more consciously artistic side of the man should be carried with us when we enter the little Mickle Street house with Mr. Traubel. There we shall see a wearied invalid, lounging nonchalantly and speaking the patois of the pavement, yet withal, if our ears are prepared, still the poet and seer. Other poets have narrowed and grown dogmatic with age, but to Whitman we feel that time has brought only sweetness and breadth; and this perhaps, despite the triviality of much of the record and its childlike egotism, despite the fact that the deeper meanings of Whitman's mind were quite dark to the disciple, is the last impression of Mr. Traubel's book. One pictures the old man as looking like the bust by Sidney Morse, which Whitman seems to have regarded as the best portrait of himself, and which resembles curiously the so-called head of Homer-
with the broad suspense
lifted brows, and lips intense
Of garrulous god-innocence.
And one observes a little trait often mentioned by the disciple:- when the conversation takes a more solemn tone, the master breaks off and turns his eyes to the window, gazing into what vista of thought, who shall say? It is a pretty symbol of that "withdrawnness" of spirit, to use his own word, which those nearest to him never understood. Almost the only signs of petulance during these days of suffering came when his more fanatical friends tried to imprison him within the circle of their reforming dogmas. He would remain fluid to the end.

From this closing scene we may travel back over the earlier years in the first adequate biography of Whitman* yet published. Mr. Binns, a worshipping young Englishman who still retains some leaven of common sense, has skilfully thrown into relief the capital moments of Whitman's career, particularly that obscure period when he was formulating his new art. We see Whitman, first as a writer of meagre talent, promising to develop into a lesser Poe or Hawthorne; then a time of silence, and suddenly, in the year 1855, in the exact mezzo cammin of his life, he prints the first issue of that extraordinary book, the Leaves of Grass, with its dithyrambic annunciation of the wedding of Romantic individualism with sentimental democracy:

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

What happened during those years of gestation? From himself we know only that one February day in 1848 he received an invitation to go to New Orleans and edit the Crescent; that he set off with his brother Jeff, and proceeded leisurely through the Middle States, and down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers; that he lived in New Orleans for some months, and then plodded back northward, up the Mississippi and the Missouri, by the Great Lakes, and down the Hudson to Brooklyn once more, where for a while he worked again as printer and as builder, but intermittently and with his heart elsewhere. We know that during these seven or eight years he was writing and rewriting, casting about for a form proper to his ideas, and that he "had great trouble in leaving out the stock 'poetical' touches." But of the deeper motives at work we hear from himself nothing. Mr. Binns finds in the enlargement of Whitman's mental horizon by travel one of the main causes of his poetical conversion, and with this he connects that shadowy passion which somewhere lies in the background of the poet's experience, alluded to more than once, but never fully revealed. It seems that about this time Whitman formed an intimate relationship with a Southern lady of higher social rank than his own, who became the mother of his child, perhaps, in after years, of his children; and that he was prevented by family prejudice or some other obstacle from marriage or the acknowledgment of his paternity. One would like to connect this incident with the fair portrait over his mantel in Miekle Street - "an old sweetheart of mine," as he once said in the presence of Mr. Traubel, "a sweetheart, many, many years ago." But when asked whether she was still living, he seemed profoundly stirred, and lapsed into his usual reticence. "He closed his eyes, shook his head: 'I'd rather not say anything more about that just now.'" All this is involved in conjecture, yet such an experience would help to explain the emotional intensifying of his self-consciousness to inspire the Leaves of Grass.

[* Life of Walt Whitman. By Henry Bryan Binns. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1905.- Since the writing of this essay Mr. Bliss Perry's sober and succinct biography has appeared. Houghton Mifflin Co., 1906.]
We may be thankful for these hints from Mr. Binns and Mr. Traubel, but the best commentary on Whitman, apart from this period of gestation, is still his own Specimen Days, one of the most remarkable autobiographies ever written, despite a certain tediousness due to its paucity, not poverty, of ideas, and its ejaculatory language. The external elements that moulded his character are here set forth with extreme precision - first of all the sturdy English and Dutch stock, thoroughly Americanised, from which he sprung, and then the old homestead in the garden spot of Long Island. Not far off lay the Great South Bay, and beyond that the sandy bars and the ever-beating Atlantic. All the sights and sounds of the sea entered into the child's heart and spoke in the songs of the man. As a boy, he longed to write a book which should express "this liquid, mystic theme," and in old age his nights were haunted with a vision "of interminable white-brown sand, hard and smooth and broad, with the ocean perpetually, grandly, rolling in upon it, with slow-measured sweep, with rustle and hiss and foam, and many a thump of low bass drums." Of all his poems, the most personal, perhaps the only one filled with passion as the world understands passion, is that incomparable rhapsody, Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking, which tdls how once, in the month of lilacs, he listened by the beach to a mocking-bird complaining of its lost mate, and in the cry of the bird and the lisp of the waves heard the two riddling words of fate:
Yes, when the stars glisten'd,
All night long on the prong of a moss-scallop'd stake,
Down almost amid the slapping waves,
Sat the lone singer wonderful causing tears.

He call'd on his mate,
He pour'd forth the meanings which I of all men know.

Yes my brother I know,
The rest might not, but I have treasur'd every note,
For more than once dimly down to the beach gliding,
Silent, avoiding the moonbeams, blending myself with the shadows,
Recalling now the obscure shapes, the echoes, the sounds and sights after their sorts,
The white arms out in the breakers tirelessly tossing,
I, with bare feet, a child, the wind wafting my hair,
Listen'd long and long.

Soothe! Soothe! Soothe!
Close on its wave soothes the wave behind,
And again another behind embracing and lapping, every one close,
But my love soothes not me, not me.

Low hangs the moon, it rose late,
It is lagging - O I think it is heavy with love, with love.

0 madly the sea pushes upon the land,
With love, with love.

0 night! do I not see my love fluttering out among the breakers?
What is that little black thing I see there in the white?

Loud! loud! loud!
Loud I call to you my love!

A word then (for I will conquer it),
The word final, superior to all,
Subtle, sent up - what is it? - I listen;
Are you whispering it, and have been all the time, you sea-waves?
Is that it from your liquid rims and wet sands?

Whereto answering, the sea,
Delaying not, hurrying not,
Whisper'd me through the night, and very plainly before daybreak,
Lisp'd to me the low and delicious word death,
And again death, death, death, death,
Hissing melodious, neither like the bird nor like my arous'd child's heart,
But edging near as privately for me rustling at my feet,
Creeping thence steadily up to my ears and laving me softly all over,
Death, death, death, death, death.

Of formal education Whitman had little, but he was always a miscellaneous reader of books, and he had that peculiar training of the American in those years which came from a variety of occupations. Through the Specimen Days we catch glimpses of him working desultorily as type-setter, proof-reader, editor, writer, school-teacher, carpenter - for the most part in Brcoklyn, but seeing a good deal of the country, and making himself familiar with all the manifold life of his beloved Mannahatta. It was always the tides of life that attracted him. He had, as he says, a passion for ferries, and spent much of his time on these boats, often in the pilot-houses, where he could get a full sweep of the changing panorama. And the moving stream of Broadway attracted him with a like sympathy; he loved to lose himself in "the hurrying and vast amplitude of those never-ending human currents," or to gaze down into it from the advantage of the omnibus top.

The great event in his life was the war. His brother George had enlisted in the army, and in the battle of Fredericksburg was wounded. Walt immediately went South, found his brother not seriously injured, stayed with the army awhile, and then in Washington made himself a kind of voluntary nurse and friend in the hospital wards. He passed from cot to cot bearing what gifts he could bring, writing letters for the feeble, above all giving of himself out of the bountifulness of his superb physical nature:

Behold I do not give lectures or a little charity,
When I give I give myself.
Many a friendless, broken lad was actually raised by his magnetic sympathy out of the despair that meant death; many another found, in his serene countenance, courage for the inevitable end. "Poor youth," he jots down in his notebook of these days, "so handsome, athletic, with profuse beautiful shining hair. One time as I sat looking at him while he lay asleep, he suddenly, without the least start, awaken'd, open'd his eyes, gave me a long steady look, turning his face slightly to gaze easier - one long, clear, silent look - a slight sigh - then turn'd back and went into his doze again. Little he knew, poor death-stricken boy, the heart of the stranger that hover'd near." Such were the notes that went unchanged into the Specimen Days - mere hasty scribblings, yet showing now and then a rare literary art. To me the final moral impression from these memoranda is the comforting assurancew much needed in these days of realistic fiction - that human nature is not entirely bestialised by war. Whitman describes the horrors of the field after a battle with pathetic vividness, but above all he causes one to feel the great wave of idealism that swept over the country, bringing the hearts of men into unison, and lifting them out of themselves into a larger purpose. And with this goes the physical impression of endlessly marching troops, of interminable shadowy processions through the lonely roads of Virginia and in the streets of Washington.

To Whitman himself there came a deepening and purifying of his nature. He gave generously, prodigally, of his sympathy, and received his reward in the sure possession of peace; but under the physical strain something broke within him. From the age of fifty-four to his death at seventy-three (1892), he was an invalid, suffering more or less from paralysis. He travelled somewhat, but most of the time he was at his home in Camden, or visiting at a farmhouse in the adjacent country. Henceforth his notes are largely made up of his communings with nature - scraps hastily written down out of doors, and palpitating at times with the immediate intoxication of the world's beauty. And this is the end of the record:

Finally, the morality: "Virtue," said Marcus Aurelius, "what is it, only a living and enthusiastic sympathy with Nature?" Perhaps, indeed, the efforts of the true poets, founders, religious, literatures, all ages, have been, and ever will be, our time and times to come, essentially the same - to bring people back from their persistent strayings and sickly abstractions, to the costless average, divine, original concrete.
Artistically this return to nature meant for Whitman a revolt against the poetical conventions. He observedwas who has not? - a certain hollowness in almost all the poetry of the day, owing to the fact that it was not rooted in the realities of modern life. The rhythm was merely pretty, and had lost its vital swing; the primitive habits which had made it a bond of union by the clappping of hands and the beeting of feet were too far in the past to lend it any communal force.* And the spirit of verse was equally a thing of the past. It was essentially a product of feudalism, and Tennyson was the last pale flower, exquisite indeed, but fragile and useless, of a civilisation which had shown its luxuriance in Shakespeare. In these traditions of form and spirit the poet was swathed until he sang no longer as a free individual man in touch with the universal currents of life, but was an empty echo of an outworn age, a simulacrum (this was the word Whitman applied to Swinburne) of vanished emotions. To restore poetry to its dominion over the present, therefore, Whitman would first of all abrogate the accepted rules of rhythm, and would allow his lines to swing, so he thought, with the liquid abandon of the waves and the winds. Feudalism should give place to democracy; there should be no more distinctions, but all things should be equally good and significant, the body with the soul, vice with virtue, the ugly with the beautiful, the small with the great. And he, Walt Whitman, would chant himself, lustily and unashamed, as a "simple separate person." So he would lead the people of America back to the costless average, divine, original concrete. Unfortunately, in breaking away from much that was undoubtedly a sham, he forgot too often those eternal conventions which grow out of the essential demands of human nature. Rhythm is such a convention, and where his broken prose is of a kind to strain the ear in the search for cadences which are not to be found, he simply, as Ben Jonson said of Donne, deserves hanging for not keeping accent. To bawl out that things unlike are like, is not to make them so, and a manly egotism, if too noisy, may sink into mere fanfaronade. For page after page Whitman is rather a preacher of poetry than a poet; and this perhaps may be his final condemnation, that he is persistently telling us how the true poem of to-day should be written instead of making such a poem. Preaching has its uses and may arouse the loftiest emotions, but its uses and emotions are not those of poetry. The simple truth is that a large number of Whitman's so-called poems are not only sermons, but dull and amorphous sermons. If they arouse in certain enthusiasts any sensation beyond that of a prosaic homily, it is because these generous readers bring with them the residual emotion arising from his work as a whole. Consider a few lines from the Salut au Monde:
What do you see Walt Whitman?
Who are they you salute, and that one after another salute you.

I see the places of the sagas,
I see the pine-trees and fir-trees torn by northern blasts,
I see granite bowlders and cliffs, I see green meadows and lakes,
I see the burial-cairns of Scandinavian warriors,
I see them raised high with stones by the marge of the restless oceans, that the dead men's spirits when they wearied of their quiet graves might rise up through the mounds and gaze on the tossing billows, and be refreshed by storms, immensity, liberty, action.
I see the steppes of Asia,
I see the tumuli of Mongolia, I see the tents of Kalmucks and Baskirs,
I see the nomadic tribes with herds of oxen and cows, etc., etc.

Now it so happens that a contemporary of Whitman, who likewise undertook in his own way to vivify the enfeebled rhythms, and who sought, by returning to the spirit of Greece, to escape from medieval feudalism, who wrote also much of his own feelings and was withal on occasion an undisguised preacher - it happens that Matthew Arnold in The Strayed Reveller has treated a very similar theme:
They see the Centaurs
In the upper glens
Of Pelion, in the streams,
Where red-berried ashes fringe
The clear-brown shallow pools,
With streaming flanks, and heads
Rear'd proudly, snuffing
The mountain wind.

They see the Scythian
On the wide stepp, unhamessing
His wheel'd house at noon.
He tethers his beast down, and makes his meal-
Mares' milk and bread
Baked on the embers;--all around
The boundless, waving grass-plains stretch, thick-starr'd
With saffron and the yellow hollyhock
And flag-leaved iris-flowers.

[* Mr. Bliss Perry in his Biography emphasises the fact that Whitman was not alone in this metrical revolt. In particular he calls attention to the remarkable parallel between Whitman's work and Samuel Warren's rhapsody, The Lily and the Bee, which was published in England in 1851, promptly republished by Harpers, and reviewed in Harper's Monthly of November, 1851. The rhapsody describes a day and night passed in the Crystal Palace, but its real subject, avowed by the author, is "Man - a unity":

"In dusky, rainless Egypt now!
Mysterious memories come crowding round-
From misty Mizraim to Ibrahim-
Abraham! Joseph! Pharaoh's Plagues!
Shepherd Kings! Sesostris!
Cambyses! Xerxes! Alexander! Ptolemies! Antony! Cleopatra! Caesar-
Isis! Osiris! Temples! Sphinxes! Obelisks! Alexandria!
The Pyramids.
The Nile!
Napoleon! Nelson!
-Behold, my son, quoth the Royal Mother, this ancient wondrous country - destined scene of mighty doings - perchance of conflict, deadly tremendous, such as the world has never seen, nor warrior dreamed of.
Even now the attracting centre of world-wide anxieties.
On this spot see settled the eyes of sleepless Statesmen- Lo! a British engineer, even while I speak, connects the Red Sea with the Mediterranean, Alexandria and Cairo made as one- "A unit unperceived,
I sink into the living stream again!-
Nave, transept, aisles and Galleries,
Pacing untired; insatiate!
Touchstone of character! capacity! and knowledgel
Spectacle, now lost in the Spectators; then spectators in the spectacle!
Rich; poor; gentle; simple; wise; foolish; young; old; learned; ignorant; thoughtful; thoughtless; haughty; humble; frivolous; profound!
Whitman was a great reader of the magazines and no doubt saw this poem just at the time when he was beating about for his own new style. Both in form and spirit this is a really remarkable parallel. There needs but a touch of genius to fit the lines in with the most characteristic of Whitman's.]
Is it not plain, even from these fragmentary quotations, that Matthew Arnold has here accomplished what Whitman proposed as a poetical task? that he has transferred to the reader the actual vision instead of asserting what he himself had seen? And a good deal of Whitman's poetry is of this rudimentary sort. I find jotted down in the margins of my Leaves of Grass a dozen or more of such comparisons. There are lines in Autumn Rivulets, which might be taken for the first rough draft from which Landor or Wordsworth elaborated his image of the inland shell; "Sail, sail thy best, ship of Democracy," sounds like a sketch for Longfellow's "Thou, too, sail on, O Ship of State"; Shelley's West Wind is there in embryo, and clumsily distorted stanzas of Gray and Horace. In a larger sense much of his verse is little more than a lusty preaching of what other men have dealt with creatively. His proclamation of health is good in its way, but long before him Scott had assimilated that doctrine into the breathing characters of his novels. I find no harm in Whitman's insistence on unashamed physical love, only surprise now and then to hear the language of the gutter from the pulpit; but for poetry I prefer Byron's creative assumption of that doctrine in the story of Haidee. Is not all the theory of Whitman's Children of Adam to be found there, turned to beautiful uses, in that picture of the two lovers brought together by mother Nature in the cavern by the starlit bay? Indeed, I am not sure but we might go further back and discover the modern sermon distilled by Lucretius into one perfect sensuous verse:
Et Venus in silvis iungebat corpora amantum.
Were this all, Whitman might be dismissed to Messrs. Traubel & Burroughs, and to his excitable British champions, without further ado; but it is by no means all. Again and again when Whitman forgets his doctrine and hearkens to his inspiration, he shows himself a poet in the simplest acceptation of that term. There are single lines here and there, such as the oft-quoted "White arms out in the breakers tirelessly tossing," which have a magical power of evoking an image or the memory of subtle sounds and odors. There are phrases, such as his "vigorous, benevolent, clean," that almost condense a system of morals into an epigram; paragraphs that hold the true poetic emotion and stand out from their context like those half-evolved figures of Rodin struggling from their matrix; short poems, such as The Singer in the Prison, that might take their place unabashed in any anthology; long poems, such as Out of the Cradle and When Lilacs Last, that show a grandiose, if somewhat stumbling, craftsmanship. And it should be observed that his rhythm in these successful passages is by no means so lawless as he himself and others have supposed. Occasionally it resembles the movement in the short rhymeless lines of Matthew Arnold, but in general it is markedly dactylic. Perfect hexameters abound:
Shouts of demoniac laughter fitfully piercing and pealing
Alternate light and day and the teeming spiritual darkness.
From these the variation is gradual-
Only the lull I like, the hum of your valved voice ....

Curious in time I stand, noting the efforts of heroes ....
In a far away northern county in the placid pastoral region-

to a solution of the verse into pure prose. The prevalent effect is that of a hexametrie cadence such as probably preceded the regular schematisation of the Homeric poems, now following its own inner law at the expense of external form, and now submitting to no law at all, but sprawling in mere uncouth ignorance.

And when he succeeds, Whitman stands naturally with the great and not the minor poets. Take, for instance, these three familiar poems by Browning and Tennyson and Whitman on the same theme, and Whitman, though not at his highest here, is still not out of place:

Fear death?- to feel the fog in my throat,
The mist in my face,
When the snows begin, and the blasts denote
I am nearing the place,
The power of the night, the press of the storm,
The post of the foe;
Where he stands, the Arch Fear in a visible form,
Yet the strong man must go ....
I was ever a fighter, so - one fight more,
The best and the last!
I would hate that death bandaged my eyes, and forbore,
And bade me creep past!
No! let me taste the whole of it, fare like my peers
The heroes of old,
Bear the brunt, in a minute pay glad life's arrears
Of pain, darkness and cold.
For sudden the worst turns the best to the brave,
The black minute's at end,
And the elements' rage, the fiend-voices that rave,
Shall dwindle, shall blend,
Shall change, shall become first a peace out of pain,
Then a light, then thy breast,
O thou soul of my soul! I shall clasp thee again,
And with God be the rest!

* * * * * * * * * *

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell
When I embark;

For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.

* * * * * * * * * *

Whispers of heavenly death murmur'd I hear,
Labial gossip of night, sibilant chorals,
Footsteps gently ascending, mystical breezes, wafted soft and low,
Ripples of unseen rivers, tides of a current flowing, forever flowing,
(Or is it the plashing of tears? the measureless waters of human tears?)

I see, just see skyward, great cloud-masses,
Mournfully slowly they roll, silently swelling and mixing,
With at times a half-dimm'd sadden'd far-off star,
Appearing and disappearing.

(Some parturition rather, some solemn immortal birth;
On the frontiers to eyes impenetrable,
Some soul is passing over.)

Browning's lines are beaten out with a superb vigour, but in substance they express only the crude individualism of a man who sees nothing beyond his personal emotions, who will contend for these face to face with the Arch Fear, that great contemner of persons, and thinks to carry them into the silence of the grave. Tennyson, the poet of universal law, has caught up into one luminous throbbing image the merging of the soul into the great tides of being from whence it sprung, while still the idea of personality is not entirely lost, but changed into a kind of mystic symbol. It is notable that Whitman, who posed before the world as the upholder of rank egotism, shows less of this quality in the presence of death than either of his great contemporaries. Here all thought of self is lost in a vague rapport, as he would say, with the dim suggestions of whispering, cloud-wrapped night; here is a perception of spiritual values far above the anthropomorphism of Browning, and a power of evoking a poetical mood, when once we have trained our ear to bring out his rhythms, as strong, though not as permanent, as Tennyson's. In this note of almost pantheistic revery, the lines may represent a departure from Whitman's earlier manner, but in another respect they exhibit the most constant and characteristic of his qualities - the sense of ceaseless indistinct motion, intimated in the sound of ascending footsteps and of the unseen flowing rivers, expressed more directly in the shifting clouds and the far off appearing and disappearing star.

And this sense of indiscriminate motion is, I think, the impression left finally by Whitman's work as a whole,- not the impression of wind-tossed inanities that is left by Swinburne, but of realities, solid and momentous, and filled with blind portents for the soul. Now the observer seems to be moving through clustered objects beheld vividly for a second of time and then lost in the mass, and, again, the observer himself is stationary while the visions throng past him in almost dizzy rapidity; but in either case we come away with the feeling of having been merged in unbroken processions, whose beginning and end are below the distant horizon, and whose meaning we but faintly surmise:

All is a procession,
The universe is a procession with measured and perfect motion.
The explanation of this effect is in part simple. The aspect of nature never forgotten by Whitman in town or field is the sea, and always the sea in motion. He is on the beach listening "As the old mother sways her to and fro singing her husky song," and looking out upon the "troops of white-maned racers racing to the goal." The endless rush of the ferries is in the substance of his verse as it formed a part of his life, and the quick pulsations of Broadway are equally there:
Thou of the endless sliding, mincing, shuffling feet!
Thou, like the parti-coloured world itself - like infinite teeming, mocking life!
Thou visor'd, vast, unspeakable show and lesson!
And the world itself is an Open Road,- "the long brown path before me," he calls it, "leading wherever I choose." Only as adding to the freedom and spaciousness of this sliding panorama can the "cataloguing" portions of Whitman's book find any justification.

From these material images it is an easy transition to the vision "Of the progress of the souls of men and women along the grand roads of the universe." Out of the infinite past he beholds himself climbing, as it were, up the long gradations of time:

Rise after rise bow the phantoms behind me,
Afar down I see the huge first Nothing, I know I was even there,
I waited unseen and always, and slept through the lethargic mist,
And took my time, and took no hurt from the fetid carbon ....

Cycles ferried my cradle, rowing and rowing like cheerful boatmen,
For room to me stars kept aside in their own rings,
They sent influences to look after what was to hold me.

And in the future, the soul, like Columbus dreaming of ever new worlds, perceives for itself other unending voyages:
As if some miracle, some hand divine unseal'd my eyes,
Shadowy vast shapes smile through the air and sky,
And on the distant waves sail countless ships,
And anthems in new tongues I hear saluting me.
It was the same symbolism in the Passage to India ("Passage to more than India!" as the refrain becomes) which led Whitman to speak of that poem to Mr. Traubel as containing, in the jargon of Mickle Street, "the essential ultimate me" and "the unfolding of cosmic purposes."

To most men, when their eyes within are opened, that spectacle brings a feeling of painful doubt. The mere physical perception of innumerable multitudes jostling forward with no apparent goal, contains an element of intellectual bewilderment for the observer. His own identity is suddenly threatened, and the meaning of his existence becomes as obscure to him as that of the alien individualities that crowd his path. And when this spectacle, as it does with some men, passes into an intuition of vast shadowy fluctuations in the invisible world, the bewilderment grows to a sense of terror, even of despair. It is the tonic quality of Whitman - the quality for which his sane readers return to him again and again - that his eyes were opened to this vision, and that he remained unafraid. All the vociferousness of his earlier poems is little more than a note of defiance against the thronging shapes that beset him. But I think it was something more than his obstreperous individualism that saved him in the end. Look into his face, especially in the noble war-time picture of him called the Hugo portrait, and you will be struck by that veiled brooding regard of the eyes which goes with the vision of the seer. He felt not only his personal identity entrenched behind walls of inexpugnable egotism, but he was conscious, also, of another kind of identity, which made him one with every living creature, even with the inanimate elements. He was no stranger in the universe. The spirit that gazed out of his own eyes into the unresting multitude looked back at him with silent greeting from every passing face. And it was chiefly through this higher identity, or sympathy, that he cast away fear. He chants its power in a hundred different ways - now crudely pronouncing himself this person and that, and again merely declaring that all persons are the same and equally good to him, now denying all distinctions whatsoever. He gave it a mystical name:

Through me the afflatus surging and surging, through me the current and index.
I speak the
pass-word primeval; I give the sign of democracy.
The word has been caught up by certain of his disciples and made the pass-word for admission into Whitman clubs and the key to unlock the society of the future. As the poet of democracy he is supposed to have relegated all preceding literatures and religions to the dust heap, and to have inaugurated a new era of civilisation. Now, undoubtedly he did represent in a way the political and physical aspects of America before the war - its large fluctuations of population, its sense of unfulfilled destiny. But for the problems confronting the actual militant democracy I cannot see that his poems have any answer. "Salvation can't be legislated" was the phrase with which he warned off the labour agitators and heralds of reform who sought his assistance in the later years. I fear that the working-man to-day who should undertake to follow his doctrine of insouciance would soon learn that loafing may be something very different from an invitation to the soul. There may be inspiration for the self-reliant individual in Whitman, but even more than Emerson's his philosophy is one of fraternal anarchy, leaving no room for the stricter ties of marriage or the state. It is curious that throughout his works you will find scarcely an intimation of the more exclusive forms of love or friendship which furnish the ordinary theme of poetry. In that universe of unresting motion into which he gazed he could discover neither time nor place for the knitting of those more enduring unions. Camarado! was his word, the cry from one man to another as they meet in the streaming procession, walk together for a little way with clasped hands, and then with the kiss of parting separate, each to his own end. This, and no political programme, is, as I understand it, the meaning of the pass-word primeval, democracy.

Only with Whitman's experience of the war, and his daily familiarity with death, do we catch the first note of that deeper mysticism which looks through the illusion of change into the silence of infinite calm. I have been struck by the fact that it was the battle-fields of Virginia that first revealed to him the stars and their infinite contrast with this life of ours. He is describing "these butchers' shambles" in his Specimen Days, when suddenly he seems to have become aware of the full glory of the sky: "Such is the camp of the wounded - such a fragment, a reflection afar off of the bloody scene while all over the clear, large moon comes out at times softly, quietly shining. Amid the woods, that scene of flitting souls - amid the crack and crash and yelling sounds - the impalpable perfume of the woods - and yet the pungent, stifling smoke - the radiance of the moon, looking from heaven at intervals so placid - the sky so heavenly - the clear-obscure up there, those buoyant upper oceans - a few large placid stars beyond, coming silently and languidly out, and then disappearing - the melancholy, draperled night above, around."- It was out of such material as this, written hastily in little pocket note-books, that the Drum-Taps were later constructed. One of the poems, the earliest in which this pathetic fallacy of the sky appears, connects Whitman with Homer:

I see before me now a travelling army halting,
Below a fertile valley spread, with barns and the orchards of summer,
Behind, the terraced sides of a mountain, abrupt, in places rising high,
Broken, with rocks, with dinging cedars, with tall shapes dingily seen,
The numerous camp-rites scatter'd near and far, some away up on the mountain,
The shadowy forms of men and horses, looming, large-sized, flickering,
And over all the sky - the sky! far, far out of reach, studded, breaking out, the eternal stars.
It is a picture, roughly-limned, yet comparable in its own way with that scene in the Iliad which Tennyson has translated so magnificently:
And these all night upon the bridge of war
Sat glorying; many a fire before them blazed:
As when in heaven the stars about the moon
Look beautiful, when all the winds are laid,
And every height comes out, and jutting peak
And valley, and the immeasurable heavens
Break open to their highest, and all the stars
Almost, in such passages as these, it would seem as if the familiarity with death had drawn for Whitman the last curtain of initiation; almost he stands like Emerson's young mortal in the hall of the firmament,- "On the instant, and incessantly, fall snow-storms of illusions. He fancies himself in a vast crowd which sways this way and that .... Every moment, new changes, and new showers of deceptions, to baffle and distract him. And when, by and by, for an instant, the air clears, and the cloud lifts a little, there are the gods still sitting around him on their thrones,- they alone with him alone." To that diviner glimpse Whitman never quite attained, and this is well, for in attaining it he would have passed beyond the peculiar inspiration which makes him what he is. He had been haunted by the idea of death as a boy, and had associated it with the breaking of the sea-waves on the beach. It was the supreme symbol of change, beautiful and beneficent, purging and renewing, yet still a gateway into new roads, and never a door opening into the chambers of home. Such a character it retains, indeed, in the later poems, but its ministration strikes nearer the heart of things:
Word over all, beautiful as the sky,
Beautiful that war and all its carnage must in time be utterly lost,
That the hands of the sisters Death and Night incessantly softly wash again, and ever again, this soil'd world:
For my enemy is dead, a man divine as myself is dead,
I look where he lies white-faced and still in the coffin - I draw near,
Bend down and touch lightly with my lips the white face in the coffin.
Even in his chant, When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd, it is notable that he instinctively chooses for his picture the dead President on that long westward journey, with the crowds thronging to behold the passing train. He is still haunted by the thought of endless progress and procession, although in the same poem is to occur that wonderful hymn to the Deliverer:
Come lovely and soothing death,
Undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving,
In the day, in the night, to all, to each,
Sooner or later delicate death.

Prais'd be the fathomless universe,
For life and joy, and for objects and knowledge curious,
And for love, sweet love - but praise! praise! praise!
For the sure-enwinding arms of cool-enfolding death.

Dark mother always gliding near with soft feet,
Have none chanted for thee a chant of fullest welcome?
Then I chant it for thee, I glorify thee above all.

He lacked the rare and unique elevation of Emerson from whom so much of his vision was unwittingly derived, but as a compensation his temperament is richer than the New England poet's, and his verbal felicity at its best more striking. I do not see why Americans should hesitate to accept him, with all his imperfections and incompleteness, and with all his vaunted pedantry of the pavement, as one of the most original and characteristic of their poets; but to do this they must begin by forgetting his disciples.

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